Thursday, December 07, 2006

Don't forget Laikipia


Talk to a travel agent about Kenya and they'll all think of the Maasai Mara and Tsavo. Some may mention Samburu or Nakuru. But you'll be lucky to find one who's heard of Laikipia. Laikipia is the vast area of savannah and ridges north and northwest of Mount Kenya (the Google Earth view here shows Mount Kenya from the southeast, with Laikipia in the background). Ultimately it merges into the deserts of northern Kenya – the Northern Frontier District or NFD as some old timers still refer to it. Laikipia, roughly the size of Wales, has no towns, and few villages. In colonial times it was mostly ranches, owned by anglo-Kenyans. Local people – Samburu, Laikipiak Maasai, Kalenjin and Kikuyu – worked on the ranches or eked out a living between them.

Today, many of the ranches include wildlife conservation areas and encourage sustainable tourism. Local people are increasingly involved in their management and share in the revenues – though still not enough – and a body called the Laikipia Wildlife Forum coordinates land policy, marketing and conservation.

It's a wonderful part of the country, with plentiful opportunities for more unusual kinds of safari, such as walking and camel safaris, and fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities (that's a Von der Decken's hornbill – a pair of them came and perched outside our room for about 5 minutes – a lot of fun for a keen photographer). Elephants tramped by every day, along the valley in front of where the kids are standing. The six enormous rooms, completely open to the view and the elements, are ranged either side of the pool.

These photos were taken in and around Il Ngwesi, one of Laikipia's foremost eco-lodges. A large proportion of the places to stay in Laikipia make efforts to limit their environmental footprint and Il Ngwesi – owned and run by the Il Ngwesi Maasai (top right picture) on behalf of their 6000-strong community – has helped lead the way in what tourists want and what works in local conditions. They're okay with the infinity pool (recenty de-infinitized by the kids in this shot) so long as their own herds have enough to drink. And the $250 per person per night rate helps too.